Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Steampunk/ YA
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK/ Simon & Schuster Children (US)
Publication Date: October 1st 2010 (UK)/ October 5th 2010 (US)
Hardcover: 496 pages
Stand alone or series: Book two in the Leviathan series.
The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.
Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan’s peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.
Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what’s ahead.
How did I get this book: Review copy from S&S UK, luckily the one with the AWESOME COVER.
Why did I read this book: Because I loved, loved book 1, Leviathan.
When I reviewed Leviathan last year, I loved it, proclaimed it to be wicked cool and it made my top 10 books of 2009. Having waited almost one year for this sequel, Behemoth, the expectations were pretty high.
Were they met?
YES. Behemoth is in two words: barking awesome.
It picks up right after Leviathan left off, in the beginning of World War 1 – or this world’s version of it – as the airship Leviathan is making its way to Constantinople (or Istanbul) on a peacekeeping mission to patch things up with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire after Churchill ahem, “borrowed” one of their warships. The mission is important because the Ottomans seem to be close to siding with the Clankers ( ie the Germans).
Inside the Leviathan, the two protagonists, Deryn and Alek have problems of their own. Both are still hiding their real identities: Alek, the heir to the Austrian empire posing as a commoner and Deryn pretending to be a boy. Alek’s problem though is more urgent: he joined the Leviathan after he and his men helped fixing the engines of the ship using Clanker technology and for that were given a reprieve but as soon as they are no longer useful, they will be taken prisoners and Alek knows they must escape the Leviathan – as soon as they reach Constantinople. On Deryn’s side of the equation, the peacekeeping mission goes awry and she is put in charge of a different, more dangerous mission: to open way for the naval wonder The Behemoth to join this war.
Fast-paced, full of action sequences (and a lot of them from Deryn’s point of view, where she totally saves the day several times), political intrigue and an imaginative world with creatures and machines, Behemoth is a tremendously fun book but without losing sight of greater, deeper explorations of patriotism, friendship, religion and ethics.
There is a divide in the world that Scott Westerfeld created between the Darwinists (led by Britain) and the Clankers (led by Germany) and that divide is more than the mere difference in technology. It encompasses everything else: from language to religion, from clothes to politics. This is the true meaning of Steampunk for me and if you ask me, I will say that yes, this series is Steampunk even though it is set a few years after Victorian times. Because it goes beyond than merely adding a dirigible here and there.
In any case, going back to the aforementioned divide, it is extremely well handled and is part of the main protagonists’ views of the world. But these two are in a very unique position to obverse the other side and see not only differences but also the similarities. In book 1, Alek spent some time in the Leviathan and has learned to sort of appreciate (and perhaps a bit more than that too) parts of the ship and their way of life even if he originally though that the Darwinists’ beasts were abominations. In book 2, Deryn is given the same opportunity to look at and consider the other side as she spends time in a Clanker nation.
Speaking of nations, this series is set in an Alternate World circa 1914 and as a History buff, I loved to see where the differences were. In the world of Behemoth the Ottoman Empire still hold the throne (although by a thread) whereas in real life, a revolution a few years before had overthrown them. In this world, that revolution failed but is on the move once more and both Deryn and Alek will have major roles to play.
And then finally, we have the two characters, and I love how they behave, speak and think differently from each other because of who they are. In this book, they have become true friends (although Deryn is certainly developing romantic feelings for Alek) who are loyal to each other but without ever forgetting their allegiance to each side of the war. This offers great opportunity for conflict, and I thought that Deryn’s was the most interesting of the two. She is completely loyal to the Darwinists and respects her uniform and her superiors. But that respect, that faith is NOT blind. If it were, she would never have joined the troupes as a boy but beyond that, she does question authority when necessary and breaks some rules by following her own mind – but always prepared for the repercussions. Although I felt Alek’s conflicts less interesting as the Heir posing as commoner, I do think there is a lot of potential for exploration of certain aspects of his beliefs. Especially when it comes to HIS faith, which sometimes comes across as blind faith in the idea of a Fated Providence guiding him. If Deryn is someone who takes action, Alek is someone who still needs to learn how to do that same thing. I think the ending posits this idea very well and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
If I have one criticism of this book is the fact that although stakes are really high – after all, it is a WAR we are talking about – never once, was I worried about the safety of the two main characters. Yes, they get into scrapes, and get hurt (physically and emotionally) but I never believed anything bad would happen to them. Given the background, I needed just a bit more of tension coming from that front. But maybe that’s just me.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the art work by Keith Thompson. Just like in Leviathan, Behemoth comes with amazing illustrations that complement perfectly the story and are both beautiful and useful.
I loved Behemoth, highly recommend this series and can’t wait for the final instalment, Golliath.
Alek starts (note: Alek does not know that Dylan = Deryn):
“Sometimes it’s almost as if I’m …. in love….”
Dylan’s body tightened beside Alek.
“I know it sounds silly,” Alek said quickly.”It’s quite obviously ridiculous.”
“But are you saying that….? I mean, what if things were different than you thought? If I were…or have you guessed already?” Dylan let out a groan. “Just what are you saying?”
Alek shook his head. “Perhaps I’m putting this stupidly. But it’s almost as though…I’m in love with your ship.”
“You’re in love,” Dylan said slowly, “with the Leviathan?”
Additional Thoughts: Later today we will publish a guest post by Scott Westerfeld on inspirations for writing the series, the use of language and some cool new illustrations. ALSO: a chance to win a copy of the book!
Rating: 9 – A TOTALLY AWESOME BOOK
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